Digital adoption in buildings was a ‘nice to have’ – now it’s a ‘must have’

The ways in which we live and work have been challenged in every aspect by the rapid spread of COVID-19, with individuals, companies and governments quickly adapting to face new realities. The impact on commercial real estate may be economic in the short term, but, beyond that, there will be a shift to the very make-up of these buildings.


Our recent EMEA Occupier Flash Survey showed continued investment in technology with a focus on connectivity, improving cleaning and hygiene, health and wellbeing of staff and workplace reconfiguration – 45% of occupiers are expecting to invest in touch-free technology, for example.


Evidently, the pandemic has triggered an immediate investment in smart building technology, under the understanding that it is integral in both reducing the risk of virus transmission in offices and in supporting employee confidence in the workplace.


This investment will focus on technologies like:


      • Desk and room booking apps – to help staff know if the building is open, how to enter and move around the building, exchange of information between staff and managers about who is in and who is WFH, guidance on attending meetings, how to find a safe and suitable desk space
      • Occupancy tracking and analytics solutions – to track people, building activity and provide alerts on occupancy levels
      • Contactless access control, swipe access control for doors and lifts – as buildings strive to reduce human contact with surfaces
      • Demand based cleaning – to ensure new cleaning regimes are maintained
      • Air quality monitoring & control – to quickly understand the role of airflow in the spread of infection
      • Live information displays – to show safe levels of activities, air quality and cleaning updates to provide confidence for staff


With a strong business case in place for immediate smart building investment, there is an opportunity to test these technologies and start an incremental process of adding more systems and processes over time, as occupiers get comfortable collecting data and benefitting from the analysis.


This immediate investment is part of an overarching shift in occupiers’ focus on smart buildings, the signs of which were already in place before the pandemic, with 63% planning to deploy technology to improve workplace user experience and 21% willing to pay a rent premium for tech-enabled smart buildings.


As using integrated technology to collect data which can inform decision making becomes more prevalent, we expect occupiers to increasingly appreciate the value of investing in this. Truly digital buildings, with connected hardware and software systems, help to drive operational efficiencies, reduce costs, improve the employee experience and enhance productivity. The value of integrated technology, therefore, extends far beyond the immediate health crisis.


Nick Wright – CBRE, Senior Director, Strategic Advisory

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